BRANCH LEAD STORY Environment Housing LEAD STORY Property

Is housing the root cause of the climate crisis?

With the UK housing industry accounting for 27% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, attention turns to what we can do to reduce this figure, while still keeping costs low.

The BedZED project has already proven that it’s achievable, albeit expensive. For those of you who aren’t aware, BedZED is the UK’s first major zero-carbon community. Comprising of 100 homes, as well as offices spaces and college facilities, the project aims to change the property landscape by showing that environmentally sustainable buildings can be made, while still keeping those creature comforts that we all know and love. Some of the BedZED features include wind cowls – which provide passive ventilation – low energy appliances and fixtures, a residents-only car pool, and every part of the roofscape is used for passive solar, PV’s, roof gardens or extensive Sedum coir mats.

The BedZED site in Hackbridge, London. The first large-scale carbon zero site in the UK.

So could this be the way to go when it comes to halting climate change? Well anti-environmentalists claim that there are far more important issues to be focusing on in 21st century Britain, and that these changes will harm those on low-incomes, as well as those looking to purchase their first home. There are some who believe in the importance of reversing climate change, although they believe that too much focus on improving the environment could be holding back those who are in a more precarious financial situation. One such person is Josef Städter, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK free-market think-tank. Städter, believes in a mix of policies that would help to improve the environmental sustainability of housing, while making sure not to adversely affect those who are not wealthy. He says: that he believes there are “trade-offs between protecting the environment and important goods such as providing adequate housing to everyone in this country. This is not to say that these goals are mutually incompatible, but pursuing one can negatively affect our ability to fulfil the other.”

On the other side of the argument is Mark Lawrence, Senior Content Editor at the Housing Quality Network. He said: “Housing is a foundation to so many aspects of our lives, and these net zero schemes don’t only reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency, [they] also tackle issues such as fuel poverty, which is obviously vital to people who are on lower incomes mostly because they are the people living in fuel poverty. It allows those households to use more of their money on other things that they want, or on other bills so they don’t fall into arears.” He also highlighted how increasing the supply of environmentally sustainable housing would eventually cause a reduction in the costs required to make them.

The Government have announced a new £450m Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which is part of the more than £3.9bn funding to cut carbon from heating and buildings, will be used to help it reach its target for all new heating system installations to be low carbon by 2035.

While some like Städter are asking to be cautious when it comes to making these kinds of changes, groups like BedZED are demonstrating the ways that zero-carbon communities can be developed and even thrive. Sue Riddlestone, Director and co-founder of BioRegional (the group behind BedZED) believes that the project has been a success. “I would say that the fact that residents here can reduce their ecological footprint by around half and yet improve the quality of their lives, together with the transferable and useful lessons learned, show that, yes, BedZED has been a success and has achieved what we set out to do… lessons learned are now being developed and refined in follow-on projects”

There are a range of ways we could resolve the climate crisis, but would the property industry be a good place to get the ball rolling? As we can see above, there needs to be a balance between providing affordable housing, and making said housing environmentally stable. It seems we will have to see what changes COP26 brings about in November.

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